Dear Diary…the Moat-House

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “The Village of Homlette”

The bunkhouse provided bread for breakfast, so we got a good start.

Kobort has all kinds of weapons, including a battle ax, splint mail, and a war horse! On the one hand, it makes him seem like the real deal…on the other hand, horses need a lot to eat.

Once we came to the fork off the main road, our pace really slowed down. It’s all overgrown, with creepers, boggy patches, and straight-up mud puddles…not to mention the trees and undergrowth.

It took us probably four hours to go three miles.

At long last, though, the foliage thinned as we approached the actual structure. I couldn’t really tell if the fortress was surrounded by actual moat, or if it was built up over a swamp.

A high-banked path had been built up to reach the gate, but it looked pretty decrepit, and the edges didn’t look too firm.

As I was looking around, I spotted some footmarks and droppings that looked familiar…like the giant frogs we’d encountered in the lair of Explictika Defilas.

I alerted my party to them, and within moments two giant frogs hopped out of the surrounding swamp and attacked.

Ezekiel told Raven to try talking them out of it (I forgot he could do that!) but it didn’t do any good – one of the frogs tried to nail Raven with its tongue (and he dodged, because he’s good at that).

Anyway, we quickly killed them (or to be specific, Nori killed them…apparently frogs aren’t immune to poison).

Kobort started ripping them open…and once I realized he wasn’t preparing to skin them, I helped search them for any valuables they might have swallowed (apparently this is what Professional Adventurers think about!).

He found an amethyst – although he didn’t want to share it at first. I’m getting a definite “Neutral” vibe.

We made it up the causeway, but the draw-bride to the gate is full of holes, with broken planks.

Kobort tied his horse on the stable ground so we could proceed. I was a little worried about what might come up and try to eat/steal it while we were gone, but I guess that’s one of the things you have to deal with if you have a horse.

The Moat-House definitely feels like the aftermath of a vicious combat. Of the two front doors, one hangs open from a rusty hinge, while the other is blocked with barricades and debris so that it couldn’t open. It’s probably so decayed it couldn’t open even if you cleared the entrance.

The entryway has several doors, and is lit mostly by arrow-slits. Raven peeked through a doorway into a tower off the entryway, and said the upper levels looked very crumpled.

Examining the muddy flagstones of the floor, I quickly found some footprints…boot prints, human-sized, that must have been made the same day.

I pointed them out and helped Ezekiel follow them while he led the way with Kobort. I had my bow out, while Lydia and Mikael (the “squishy spell-casters”) kept in the middle of the group.

There were two sets of prints, and it was pretty plain they’d been through there within the past two minutes!

I wasn’t sure how that could be, or where they’d come from, since we’d had to hack our way through the undergrowth to follow the road…but it retrospect it makes sense that they’d have their own routes.

We followed the tracks up some steps and through another broken doorway into a large, high room that must have been the great hall – complete with broken furniture and ragged banners on the walls. The banners are all black, whether by design or from smoke it’s hard to tell. The roof had chinks of light shining through, and I think we’re lucky it was still holding above our heads.

The footprints led to a door, which Kobort and Ezekiel opened without difficulty. The room beyond was pretty dark, but I could see glimpses of bedrolls and sacks lying in the corners.

That’s when men jumped out of the shadows and attacked!

Mikael took a blow in the arm, and Kobort gave a shout of pain.

Ezekiel yelled, “Fighting retreat!” while Nori sprang forward to protect her “friend.”

I’ve obviously been away from my bow for too long. Even when Mikael lit them up with faery fire, I wasn’t hitting anything.

Raven charged in with his spear and took one out. A cross-bow bolt cracked against the wall. Mikael waved a glowing hand at Nori and told her to go sit on the wall…and she limped out of the combat, one of her eight legs dragging a little.

Ezekiel and Kobort had made it back to within a few feet of the door, and Ezekiel yelled, “Do it!”

Raven threw his spear (but I don’t think that’s what he meant).

Lydia said some creepy-sounding words, and made a throwing motion with her hands.

Green smoke – or something – filled the room beyond.

Raven pulled his robe over his nose and said, “Stinky!”

Kobort and Ezekiel both staggered out of the room, gagging, to lean against the wall…but Mikael, just beyond Raven, stood there, bent over his stomach.

Well…so…Shooting at people who are standing still and gagging is pretty easy, all things considered. I started dropping the bandits while Raven took a couple out with his throwing daggers (and Lydia pulled Mikael out of the noxious cloud).

As soon as the cloud dissipated, Kobort and Ezekiel charged in – because Ezekiel wanted to capture the two leader-types alive.

One of them was still fighting fit…but didn’t seem interested in taking on the people who had just killed all of his men.

Especially not after Mikael said something I didn’t catch, and then a cloud of insects swarmed through the windows and covered him. I know, right?!

At that point, the bandit dropped his weapons and fled – swatting at the insects all the while.

The other leader-type was still looking green from the gas, so Raven and Kobort dog-piled him. Ezekiel tossed them some rope to tie him up with, and joined the chase for the one on the run.

(I think I should reexamine my luggage strategy. I’m not much for sprinting, if you know what I mean.)

The bandit had almost reached the corner of the room when Raven came out of nowhere from behind and flying-tackled him.

After that, it was pretty much over, and I pulled out the coil of rope I’ve been carrying in the bag of holding to tie him up.

We searched them, and found some decent money and little jewelry. Then Ezekiel settled down to question them, while I searched the bodies of the fallen (because I’m not much for asking questions, after all).

Raven explored the corner, and found a tumble-down hole in the wall that led to stepping stones across the moat. Clearly that’s how the one bandit mook that got away escaped – and how the bandit lieutenant intended to make a run for it.

I gather we didn’t learn much from the bandit leaders. They’ve been living here and preying off merchant caravans, but that’s the extent of their ambition (and the leader said he’d never even been to Homlette).

So as far as I’m concerned, it’s a wash in relation to our “cult quest.”

Mikael cast Cure Light Wounds on Kobort, since he seemed to get the brunt of the blows.

Ezekiel sent Mikael, Kobort, and me to explore a bit more of the building while they guarded the prisoners (and while Nori rested up, since she got hit pretty badly, too). As we left, Kobort told Ezekiel to search the corner near the escape hole…he said it looked like something buried there.

On this second trip to the great hall, I could see that the flagstones were black, like the banners, and I don’t think it’s from smoke. Although there’s a barricade of tables down the middle of the room, I couldn’t find any footprints except the ones from our bandit buddies…and they only went between the main door and their bunk-room. So I doubt any other humans have been using this place – certainly not this part of the fortifications.

There were signs of other things, though. I’m sure there’s some kind of snake in one part of the building, and there seemed to be giant lizard prints in another area.

We picked a corridor to the west, and as we approached I could hear a chittering and rustling…like…

Rats. Giant rats, to be specific. A whole pack of them.

They attacked us as soon as we came around the corner, but let me just say I am so happy to not be level 1 anymore. I took them out, one after another – wham, wham, wham.

Poor Kobort was having trouble – it’s not easy to hit something a small and wiggly as a rat with a big battle ax.

Mikael cast a spell that made his staff glow…but I’m not sure if it helped him or not. He seemed to kill more rats after it stopped glowing. Maybe it’s a protection thing to keep his staff from breaking?

Anyway, we vanquished the varmits and examined the area. It must have been a storage area, with lots of shelves and broken jars. I found a jar of what smelled like oil, and took it…because why not?

There were also stairs leading down to a lower level, but we decided that we shouldn’t risk it with just the three of us.

When we returned to the bunk-room, Ezekiel had dug up a chest…the bandits’ “stash.” He and Lydia went through it, and found four arrows that he thinks are special (they’re certainly well-crafted, and were hidden away with the rest of the booty, but they’re not glowing or anything like that).

Ezekiel has decided to turn the prisoners over to the constable, and since it’s afternoon by now, I figured we should head back to town, let the spell-casters recharge their spells, and come back to search the rest of this place tomorrow. (Spell-casters sure are handy to have around…Ezekiel!)

Anyway, we’re grabbing a bit to eat, and deciding whether we can get the prisoners and the loot chest back to town. It might come in handy that Kobort has a horse along.

Ezekiel is still pretty pumped, despite our informational set-backs. I hope he stays that way.

(If he never threatens to set prisoners on fire again, though, that’ll be good.)


To read the previous entry, click here.

To start at the beginning of the adventure in Homlette, click here.

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Dear Diary…chock one up to the spider

ALERT: May contain spoilers for the adventure: “The Village of Homlette”

With a little more internal direction, we headed back to Homlette.

They’re building some kind of fort at the east end of town. The walls aren’t too imposing yet, and the gatehouse is barely started, but the tower in the center looks sturdy and well-made.

Elmo split off from us near the edge of town…off to do his own secret mission stuff, no doubt.

Ezekiel wouldn’t stop dancing down the road. I guess he likes having a definite direction to move in.

As we passed the house of the village elder, a warrior in blue armor led a horse out the gate, mounted, and rode off. The elder stuck his head out and waved to us as we passed. It’s nice to know now that he’s on our side…and that he hasn’t been murdered.

We got to the Welcome Wench about mid-afternoon, and ordered some dinners.

There were a couple fighters in the common room – one of them wearing the blue lacquered plate armor we’d noticed earlier. With her helmet off, her hair shone against the armor in a devastating way.

We had just gone upstairs to “freshen up” while dinner cooked, when Lydia appeared at the door of the bunk-room. She said there was a problem, so we went down the hall to the room we’d rented for the past two nights to store our trunk in.

She said she’d found the door unlocked, and the trunk inside was also unlocked.

Ezekiel examined it, and thought some of our electrum was missing (about five pounds). I guess you can’t count on anything.

Well, it’s not like we were suddenly broke. Many of us had been lugging around our share of the gold, so we were able to pay what we owed on the room, and pay for dinner. (And I’ve still got the “company stash” in the bag of holding: what we have left from selling the dwarf-sized magic chainmail.)

Ezekiel had asked the innkeeper, Osler Gundigoot, for time to answer questions, so Mr. Gundigoot talked with us while we ate.

He started by explaining that the one fighter was Rufus, who’s building the tower with Bern for the Plar of Veluna (they’re the two who killed a dragon).

The other fighter – in blue and silver – is a princess! from Celene…so that makes sense.

Anyway, Ezie asked about the “old troubles.” Apparently it started as just bandits…or, the villagers thought it was just bandits. They started human, but as the raids went on, more bugbears, hobgoblins, and other goblinoid vermin were added.

Sounds like it was pretty bad. The townspeople organized the militia and set up horn-signals to help warn each other, and some of them built hiding places in their cellars to protect their goods (and children).

In one raid, “Black J” the shepherd lost his wife and child. He was a mercenary back in those days, and wasn’t at home…and his family didn’t make it to the safety of the inn fast enough. That’s why Black J was so surly when Ezekiel and the others passed his house on the way to the chapel.

(The chapel of St. Cuthbert wasn’t built yet at that time.)

Mr. Gundergoot also mentioned – there’s a weaselly fellow hanging around the inn, calls himself Fernok of Ferd (Ezekiel said that’s a made-up name if ever he heard one). Apparently he’s and adventurer who never seems to go out adventuring, and he spends a lot of time playing cards with the other guests…and winning. Mr. Gundergoot says he can’t prove that he’s cheating, but he would be happy if Fernok played his games elsewhere.

Mr. Gundergoot also told us that the bandits used to use a moat-house as a band of operations. It’s to the north of the new fort they’re building (I saw the overgrown track as we were coming into town today).

We agreed that this hide-out would be a good place to investigate (although I ask myself, “Wouldn’t a new cult stay away from such an obvious place? Or wouldn’t the professionals have thought to investigate that already?”).

Ezekiel also wants to talk to the village elder and Black J – although Mikael seems dubious about getting Black J to actually communicate with us.

We were just finishing up our drinks (Raven praising the meal to high heaven) when a young man came up to our table and introduced himself as Fernok.

Well, sometimes things just drop in your lap.

He offered to buy us drinks, and Lydia asked for another glass of the rather pricy wine she had had…and her veil was over her face, so Fernok went for it and bought her one.

It was hilarious watching her play him. I wonder if she’s had practice.

Anyway, Ezie invited him to join us at the table, and Fernok began explaining this card game called “gin.”

My brothers never let me play with them because they were afraid I’d mess up the cards. (I think some of them never tumbled to the fact that I wasn’t five years old anymore.)

Well, Ezekiel muttered something to himself (sounded like, “I guess we’re doing this now”) and agreed to play a round.

Half-way through, Mikael pointed out that Fernok seemed to be dealing Ezekiel cards from the top, but himself he dealt cards from the “not top” sometimes.

Lydia apparently noticed, too, and asked if maybe Nori would notice even better (having eight eyes, you know).

Lydia asked Fernok how he knew which cards to pull. He didn’t seem to know what to say.

Ezekiel looked over one of his cards, and found a nick in the edge – which is surely bad, because my brothers were always anxious that I was going to nick the cards.

Lydia took the card to look at it, and set it on fire with her finger. It was a dramatic thing to do…but it’s also a pretty cool trick.

Ezekiel (in classic pompous style) told Fernok to play straight or play elsewhere. (Somewhere in here Lydia dropped her veil, and gave him the shock of his life. I could say something about female goblins here, but that wouldn’t be smart.)

Well, I don’t know if Fernok was convinced, but he was certainly rattled, so he took himself off toward his room – with his deck of cards.

About that time the princess got up to leave, and Ezekiel muttered something to himself again and met her as she approached the door.

He made a nice bow, and asked her, “pardon your highness,” could she tell him anything about the Battle of Emridy Meadows?

She said, no, she wasn’t there…and he apologized profusely for rudeness.

The princess laughed, and said, “That weaselly thief was rude; you’re merely amusing.”

And I guess to be “amusing” to an elf is about as ambitious as small fry like us could hope for.

They said some other pomp-y things to each other, and then she left. I stood as she passed and went out the door.

Ezekiel dropped into his chair, shaking his head. “Paladin of Hironius – because of course,” he muttered – looking like he’d been speaking to a ghost.

Lydia sighed. “She was so beautiful,” she said.

So I guess the lady affected us all in different ways.

We decided to give him a minute, then go talk to the village elder.

I asked if someone didn’t want to guard Lydia’s room while we’re gone…just in case Fernok is vindictive or something?

Well, the gang decided Nori could sit in the room and guard it, so Mikael took the key from Lydia and led Nori up there. (Do spiders need to be house-broken? Um…do spiders pee?)

The elder was as courteous and welcoming as ever, and told us about the history over fruit drinks.

After the Battle of Emridy Meadows, the forces of Good went to the Temple and stormed it. When that was accomplished, they mopped up at the moat-house.

Since then, it’s fallen into disrepair…although apparently adventurers still go there and bring back loot from time to time.

(That made me wonder…are they really “adventurers”? Might someone starting up a new cult want “relics” from the place of the old cult with which to do their Evil? To focus their actions, maybe? Speaking as someone who’s never started a cult, I don’t know.)

The elder talked a little bit about the bad times…how the villagers set up signal systems to warn each other of raids, and Osler at the Welcome Wench built a room in his basement to store weapons and to be a refuge in times of attack.

He confirmed what we’d heard about Black J, and said he was working for someone when the raid came through that killed his family.

Ezekiel also asked about the Paladin from Celene, and the elder told us that the Prince of Furiundi has disappeared! The Princess Paladin was carrying a message between the rulers in relation to that.

I guess bigger people have bigger issues to deal with. Apparently the prince was supposed to marry the daughter of the Plar of Veluna, so now both principalities are on edge, and it’s anyone’s guess what might happen.

All above our heads, I suppose, since we can’t even discover whether or not there’s an Evil Cult working around here.

But if the Temple is trying to restart itself…that’s trouble that nobody needs right now.

When we took our leave of the village elder, Ezekiel was all gung-ho for exploring the moat-house…but we pointed out that it was almost suppertime, and if it took three or more hours to get there (through the bog and overgrowth on the old road) we’d be in a bad spot. Much better to wait for morning.

So we returned to the inn – and no sooner had we gotten upstairs than Lydia gave a scream from her room.

We raced down the hall, and she said she’d found the door unlocked again –

And a man lying dead inside.

Ezekiel examined him. It was Turuko, the guy who’d tried to join our party when we first arrived, and had rubbed us the wrong way.

Raven talked to Nori (yeah, I forgot he can do that) and says he let himself in and started working on the chest, so she dropped on his back and bit him.

And that was that.

With a clanking and thumping, Kobort appeared in the doorway (the guy’s friend).

He half-drew his sword, but Ezekiel explained Turuko had entered our room without permission, and our spider did her job and took care of him.

It seems the most that Kobort was worried about was his money – since he says Turuko held the money for both of them – so Ezekiel said that after taking some electrum that he assumes is ours, we’d give the rest of the possessions to Kobort.

Ezekiel offered to buy Kobort a drink, and we all headed downstairs – locking the room, naturally.

Ezie chatted with him for a bit, finding out that he’s from the Wild Coast, and that he’d met Turuko while coming through Homlette, and T had suggested they join up to become “rich and famous”. T said they’d wait for adventurers to come back from the moat-house with treasure, and then rob them…but they hadn’t found any adventurers to rob yet.

Osler Gundergoot pulled Mikael aside to find out what happened (kicking myself that we didn’t tell him sooner) and then summoned the constable (Fred Renton).

(Elmo was in the common room drinking again, and waved “hi Dad!” when the constable came in.)

C. Renton went upstairs and examined the “crime scene.” (I’m gratified that Nori didn’t eat the body. That would have been disrespectful at best, awkward or criminal at worst.)

Well, the upshot is that we weren’t arrested, and the constable and Ezekiel looked over Turuko’s clothes to try to figure out what god he worshipped.

They decided he was probably a monk of Hextor (Ezekiel almost spit on the floor). Well, there aren’t any churches of Hextor around (thank goodness) so they sent for Brother Calmert at the chapel of St. Cuthbert to “deal with” the body.

At the constable’s suggestion, we moved Lydia into the room across the hall, then went downstairs for dinner.

I stood as Calmert and his men carried the body out…he was a human being, after all.

Mikael said he just cares that his spider did well. Must be his “Neutral” showing…

Oh, yes. Ezekiel invited Kobort to come with us tomorrow to the moat-house. After all, he doesn’t seem like an Evil guy, and it’ll give him a chance to make some money before he moves on. I can believe that it’s not his fault Turuko played him.

And if it’s just a day-trip, we don’t have to trust him to keep watch through the night.

Father always got pretty upset over the friends Bartholomew used to hang out with. I think he figured Bartholomew didn’t have enough character to be a positive influence and not get corrupted by others.

Maybe that’s why Bartholomew and I never really had fun together. He was…okay…there just wasn’t much there.


To read the previous entry, click here.

To start at the beginning of the Homlette adventure, click here.

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Dear Diary…drama and revelations!

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure: “The Village of Hommlet”

What. A. Day.

On the plus side, no one is dead…

After investigating the rock pile memorial by Emridy Meadows, we headed for Nulb.

Four bugbears attacked us, but Elmo noticed them (and I smelled them) and we killed them pretty easily.

We did get hurt badly enough that Mikael took time to properly cast both his Cure Light Wounds spells (on Ezekiel and Elmo), which meant he’d used them up for the day.

Lydia did something cool, too, where she turned herself invisible when the bugbears attacked. I’ll have to ask her about that some time…

Nulb is surrounded by the Gnarly Forest, which by all accounts is a dangerous place. It’s no surprise bugbears are wandering freely, robbing and molesting as they please…and that adventurers are flocking to the area to wring treasure from the monsters.

As we came into town, the first couple houses seemed to be barely hovels – made of mud and thatch, or sod, and barely maintained. There’s a short bridge across the river into town, and the stones were much moss-eaten. We all followed Elmo’s example and stayed in the middle of the bridge.

The smell hits you as you enter the cleared ground of the town, and just gets stronger the closer you are to the river. Swamp and rotten fish is the best way to describe it…much like the Rushmoors around the lair of Explictika Defilas.

Lydia pointed out some enormous fish with teeth like crocodiles. She called them Giant Gars…whatever they are, I’d rather not swim with them. Obviously they eat the leftovers that are dumped into the river…(and perhaps the unwary travelers that are dumped into the river?).

The first building across the river is the Waterside Hostel – which has a stone foundation and wooden timbers, but looks pretty shabbily cobbled-together, all things considered.

We kept going past the blacksmith’s, where we met an old man taking a stroll.

Ezekiel tried talking to him about the town gossip, but the man said everything was “none of your business.”

I muttered to myself that I could “just feel the warmth of hospitality” – and the blacksmith must have heard me, because he laughed.

When Ezekiel went and talked to him, the blacksmith said there was demand all over for “hired blades”; when Ezie asked about trouble that needed solving, he suggested we ask “Little Mona” the Tzigan about her troubles.

She lives back up by the river, and the path to get there is only a step away from being swamp. Nori found a toad the size of a dinner plate (and, of course, ate it).

I asked Lydia if it was her toad, and she said, no, he was in her pocket. Apparently his name is Gruumsh, which I didn’t know before, (like the chief Orc god – Lydia says he looks like the altar to Gruumsh. She showed me, and he kinda does).

When we met Mona, Raven did the talking. She instantly recognized that he had the mark of the Tzigani, and didn’t mind telling us that her crystal ball had been stolen last night while she was at the tavern (Waterside Hostel).

Raven and Ezekiel engaged to find it for her, if possible, and of course I was set to track the thief.

The footprints weren’t that hard to find…especially when Elmo started tapping the toe of his boot casually by them.

“Thief prints go this way,” he said.

(I wasn’t really sure how he could know they were “thief prints” – I mean, they weren’t Mona’s feet, but you can’t jump to conclusions, y’know?) But he was insistent, so we followed the prints (this guy hadn’t done any work to cover his tracks, so I really didn’t need Elmo’s subtle-but-not-subtle hand gestures) until we got to the Waterside Hostel.

Well. Then.

We went in. There were three patrons in the corner, a couple of them still humming the drinking song we’d heard them singing earlier.

A greasy serving girl with more bust than shirt (you know the type) draped around Ezekiel (I have heard he’s a stunner, if you’re into that) and asked what she could get for us.

We found our way to a table and Raven and Elmo right away grabbed the good seats – the ones against the wall facing out into the room.

Ezekiel nodded me into the third chair against the wall and sat down, checking the potions and money pouch on his belt.

“Thief went upstairs,” said Elmo.

The window at my back was greasy. The table was greasy. The mostly spent candle on the table was also greasy. Long story short, I don’t think that place had seen a cleaning rag in some time.

While Raven and Ezekiel were ordering ales, Lydia made fire on the end of her finger and lit the candle.

(Magic Users are so cool that way. You can mock them for not doing anything in a fight…but come on. You can’t mock somebody who can make fire come out of their finger.)

I was deciding whether to be paranoid about their drinks – and Lydia was deciding about ordering wine – when Mikael held up his hand and said, “Wait, where’s my ring?”

That got all our attentions, since it’s his magic Protection Ring (and he can use all the help he can get).

The serving girl, with her chest in Mikael’s face, flounced onto one hip and said (a little loud) that she didn’t know what he was talking about.

Well…we’d seen this magic act before, so Mikael straight-up asked her to give it back.

Things are never that easy. The girl started hollering for the innkeeper (who’s named Dick, is like seven feet tall, and has an eyepatch).

They argued for a little bit — and I tried to suggest that everybody empty their pockets onto the table (to give them an out so we didn’t have to say who took the ring) but they weren’t falling for anything like that.

Ezekiel stood up to face the innkeeper (and the bartender he called over, and the two guys with leather armor and daggers that came out of the kitchen) and started in on his pontification stuff.

“I mean your establishment no harm, but kindly return my friend’s ring.”

Someone (either Raven or Mikael, I forget who – I was busy going through my pockets) suggested they might return it in exchange for some coin.

Dick the innkeeper thought he’d be clever, and said, “Oh, you want a specific ring!”

Yes! we all said: A specific, magic Protection Ring that was on Mikael’s finger just a moment ago!

Well, the bartender (his name is Wat and he’s really tall) brought over a lantern and crawled around on the floor, then announced he couldn’t see any ring.

(About this time Mikael whistled for Nori, and she came to the door, clicking her mouth-parts together.)

(The three drinkers in the corner ignored all of this and focused on their mugs.)

One of the kitchen staff came into the room in chainmail with sword and shield, while Ezekiel started breathing heavily through his teeth.

“I personally am not a follower of St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel,” he said. “But there are times when I think his philosophy is the correct one. Elmo, what do you think?”

Instead of answering, Elmo hurled the table.

Elmo is very big.

The table flew through the air, slammed Innkeeper Dick and Bartender Wat in the chests, and toppled them to the floor.

Ezekiel (plus his chainmail, shield, mace, gear, and backpack) jumped on top of the table to hold it down – BLAM.

Raven danced over the table with monk-ish speed and swung at the guy in chainmail.

I got around the table and slashed at him – got him pretty well, too, and cut a big gash across one shoulder.

Elmo’s axe whistled as it came down and imbedded in the table – THUNK.

“We give!” howled Dick…which was pretty sensible – and also worked out for us, since we had no intention of seizing an inn by massacre.

Elmo levered the table off the two of them, and they picked themselves up and called the girl from where she had fled upstairs and made her give the ring back.

While our companions kept an eye on the staff, Elmo (with me for moral support) tracked our original thief upstairs.

The floor up there was such a mess of muddy footprints, though, that we couldn’t tell which room he went into.

Elmo knocked on the door where the girl was and “persuaded” her to open the door. (Don’t argue with a guy who has a big axe.)

We did find a secret hiding place in the floorboards, but all it had was a potion and some earrings. Probably not originally hers, but there was no way for me to know that – and it wasn’t really my business anyway, so we left them there and went to the room across the hall.

It was locked, and nobody was home (the girl said someone named “Mickey” lived there), but Elmo didn’t find the lock much trouble for his shoulder and got the door open.

In that room, we found what we were looking for – a crystal ball buried in the straw mattress (I assume it’s the same sphere – it had a cloudy center…and how many crystal balls are there around, anyway?).

We returned to the others, and left. Ezekiel said the electrum we paid for our drinks (which we never got) would pay for the damages.

I doubt very much that we made any lifelong friendships there.

We took Mona back her crystal ball, and in return she told Raven’s future. She said, “How strange. It just says, ‘Beware of snakes’.”

Well, that’s a little less strange when you realize that Raven’s traveling with Ezekiel…Grand Cleric of Snake-summoning. It was disappointing, though, since we’d been hoping for news about the Evil we came here to defeat, and, as Mona pointed out, snakes aren’t exactly evil…they just “are.”

She did promise that if she hears any news of the Temple of Elemental Evil, she’ll send word to us at the Welcome Wench in Hommlet, and suggested we go see Mother Screng, the herbalist, for more info.

See, we came here because the Cleric of Velnius had heard rumors the cult of Elemental Evil was stirring again. Not because no-good ruffians were picking pockets and murdering travelers. I’m not saying that regular bar-brawls and banditry are okay…but there is a difference in scale, see. And for the moment, we were stumped.

Well, we took the long way around to get to Mother Screng’s (Elmo knows his way around really well) and passed the Boatman’s Tavern (which is supposed to be the “bad” inn).

Ezekiel, Mikael, and Lydia went in to do the talking, while Raven, Elmo and I hung out around the corner and kept an eye out.

Elmo started tapping against the wall of Mother Screng’s house, and I looked at Raven awkwardly. By that point, he’d saved our lives enough and been enough of a help that I didn’t think he was going to double-cross us…but there was a whole lot of stuff going on that I didn’t understand, and there’s only so much I can take.

So I asked him what tune he was playing there, and he said he’d explain at camp.

A little boy went inside, and then Ezekiel and the others came out — Ezekiel practically dancing.

He told us it was probably time we got out of town, and Elmo agreed – taking us back by the long road. As we were crossing the bridge again, we heard a whistle from the Waterside Hostel…but by then we were practically out of town.

If those small-time crooks want to brave bugbears to try murdering us in our sleep, have at it!

(Just don’t let the bugbears get ahold of any dangerous weapons – like tables! Ha!)

We returned to the campsite where we stayed last night, and Raven retrieved his “horsey” dagger from the stump.

Since it was a little after noon, and we hadn’t eaten, I got a fire going and started preparing rations.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel was practically bouncing.

“I want to apologize for dragging you all out on a wild goose chase,” he said. “But now I think I know where we’re supposed to be.”

He spread his hands with a grin. “Maybe we looked like fools, blundering around like this, but I’m used to looking like a fool for my God!

“See, Mother Strung told us that ‘Cannoness Eday is exactly where she wants to be…on a special assignment for the church.’ Obviously Mother Spring is Cannoness Eday!” he went on.

“Also, remember that old man we met on the way into Hommlet? Well, St. Cuthbert sometimes travels around in the guise of an old man – so I think he was St. Cuthbert.”

I was beginning to start wondering what nefarious plot this was to murder us in our beds (and also how Ezekiel could have so much trouble with a name like ‘Screng’) when Elmo started talking.

In…a…different…voice.

“She’d appreciate it you didn’t spread that around too much, you know. Some of us can’t appear like what we really are.”

And he started telling us how he joined our group partly to see if we were legit…and had decided we were too stupid to be lying about who we were.

Because Evil people pretending to be Good are way more clever about it.

He also said that he understood acting like an idiot in service to your Deity.

He told us that we could trust the innkeeper of the Welcome Wench, and the elder of Hommlet (both are Old Faith).

(Oh, and he slipped me the Super Secret Ranger Signal. I guess because he felt like being obvious for once.)

Ezekiel asked him about the fighter and magic user building a tower somewhere east of town, and Elmo said, Oh, yes – they are servants of St. Cuthbert and are building the castle on behalf of the Plar of Veluna (and, yes, they did get their money from killing a dragon).

At which point I raised my hand and opened my big mouth.

Why on earth had Velnius (through his Cleric) sent a handful of Level 3s half-way across the continent (a party whose sneakiest member is the Large Spider and who largely resemble a mace – blunt and un-subtle) when there were a couple of dragon-slayers, a priestess secret agent, St.-Cuthbert-in-the-flesh, and a Level 18 triple-classing Ranger/Magic User/Bard already dealing with the problem? (Maybe the Cleric should have taken a pull of that crystal ball before setting his quest spell on Ezekiel?)

To which Elmo replied: Sometimes the blunt, clueless adventurers are more likely to bump into the answer and knock it over than a collection of secret agents who are trying to sneak around and find it.

In short: because we have big mouths, and no clue what we’re doing.

(Yeah…I got that feeling back with the tracking-footprints bit.)

So Elmo suggested we talk with Cobort and Turuko (those guys in the Welcome Wench who gave us a bad vibe) plus someone who’s claiming to be a sage.

Apparently there is “Evil” going on…and it’s uncannily coordinated. But where is the coordination coming from? Who is the Mastermind behind all this?

Elmo tells us that both the innkeeper and the elder were here before the original troubles started, so they might be able to give us pointers on what to look for.

But besides all that, we can serve as the cheese in the trap for older, stronger adventurers to catch their prey of evil cultists.

As Mikael said: “Let’s run headlong into danger!”

Ditzy, blundering do-gooders has totally been our M.O. lately. (Jill taught me that phrase: it means modus operandi – a person’s mode of operation.)

Cheese seems about what I’m cut out for at the moment, since I feel pathetically inadequate in other respects.

(Ezekiel mentioned “back when he served Heironeous,” so Elmo asked who he serves now. So Ezekiel got to gush about Ao, the “God of Gods,” who is in charge of even the other gods, and is worthy of worship even though He doesn’t give Ezekiel spells. Ezie pointed out that He has given good gifts – as seen with His power against undead – and that he is sure Ao has him here for a reason…even if it’s to play the Idiot Cleric in some universe-sized plan beyond our comprehension.

(That can be a comforting thought…especially when it feels like Blundering Idiot is your highest stat. It’s encouraging to think that Someone more powerful has your back…whether that’s a real, grown-up Ranger, or Ehlonna, or – dare I say it? – the God of Gods.)

Ezekiel looks ready to break into song and dance any moment.

I think Mikael and Raven are just happy to finally have a definite direction to move in…and also to be closer to defeating bad guys. Dare I suspect them of a little danger-lust, where it’s the thrill of the hunt and the unknown that keeps them forging on?

Lydia is taking notes in a notebook. Maybe she is keeping a journal, too.

The investigators who come after us will want to know what clues we gathered, and where we went wrong.

Which reminds me…I need to make sure my will is up-to-date.


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Dear Diary…talking and investigating (also what we’re bad at)

Alert: May contain spoilers for the module “The Village of Hommlet”

Well…we know what we’re good at, now.

Over dinner, Mikael told Raven about how Elmo’s armor is nicer than expected, and some of the suspicions he and Ezekiel had about that. (Elmo was too busy drinking to notice, I think.)

Ezekiel excused himself and went to visit the chapel of St. Cuthbert to ask the rector about the habits of bugbears (wish I could find the manual my Ranger Master gave me), while Raven and I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to have another member of the party, and we’d feel out some of the other potential adventurers in the inn.

Specifically Zrt (Zirt? Zyrt?), who Raven seemed to have a positive impression of…but I only vaguely remembered bumping into at the top of the stairs a few days ago.

We found him in his room…He’s waiting for a caravan to accompany to Divrs, but is willing to kill some monsters in the meantime.

Well…under certain circumstances.

The three of us talked a little bit, feeling each other out, and turns out he’s more focused on treasure than, ahem, public service. He says his deity is “eighteen inches of steel” and that for a monster-hunting, treasure-seeking adventure, he’ll settle for an equal share of the loot…but for a “trouble”-seeking, Evil-stomping mission, he wants fifty gold a day.

(Like we have that kind of money.)

We told him we’d confer with our party leader…but I don’t think he would mesh very well with Mr. “Worship-a-God-who-doesn’t-exist-’cause-it’s-the-right-thing-to-do-and-wander-the-Flannaes-for-Evil-to-defeat” Guy.

If you know what I mean.

Besides that, Raven is anything but blasé about his goddess (I’m pretty sure “praying and meditating” isn’t short-hand for “napping”). And as useful as a magic short sword and shield and bow and arrows all are, there are some predicaments nothing but the good grace of Ehlonna could get us out of.

So Zyrt is probably just as happy to find a party more geared toward his interests. It might have been awkward for all involved, but I’m glad we found that out.

Before I could say so, though, Raven announced he was going out to buy cheese, and left.

Mikael had apparently been talking with Elmo…but now Elmo had left, and Mikael said he was going to teach Nori some new tricks as he headed out the door.

I decided it was my turn to be the grown-up for once, and hired a room for Lydia for the night, and bunks for the rest of us. (I used the gold we got for selling the magic dwarf armor, since I figure that counts as “party funds.”)

When I was done helping Lydia carry her books up to the room (don’t let anyone tell you magic users are frail and delicate…no wonder she can’t wear armor when she’s got to lug those tomes around…although if it was me I might just jot some notes down to help my memory, or for the most important spells, and just bring that) anyway, when I returned to the common room, Ezekiel was in the corner with Elmo, having a chat. (And Elmo was having a jack of ale again.)

Ezekiel came over to me and told me, “We can trust him.”

Aaaall-righty, then. Perhaps Ezekiel pontificated at him – or maybe he finally got a “Detect Alignment” or something – but anyway that’s a weight off my mind.

Now I’ll only be suspicious because that’s what I do – not also because Ezekiel and Mikael have this big conspiracy they’re trying to uncover (and aren’t telling me about because they don’t want me to worry – like I would worry about something!).

Oh, also Ezekiel says that, according to Under-Priest Calmet (and the Master of the Grove, Brother Geru), bugbear chiefs have been known to keep the group’s treasure locked up in a central place to keep the other bugbears from getting uppity ideas.

So there goes another beautiful theory. I’m not one to question those higher level than I, but I can’t help wondering what the Cleric of Velnius was thinking of when he sent us after “Evil” here. I mean, the area is crawling with bugbears (and other nasties, apparently), but is there something more sinister going on?

Because the treasure-grubbing breed of adventurers seems perfectly capable of dealing with monstrous bandits.

And after all, the Cleric of Velnius was a long way away. Surely he wouldn’t have sent us halfway across the continent for nothing?

Maybe we’ll find out more in Nulb. We’ve bought more rations, so we’ll set out in the morning…with Elmo, again.

****

We got a good start, and the day was fine for walking.

We overtook a wagon caravan on the way through to Divrs, guarded against bandits by crossbowmen.

They were loaded down enough that we easily passed them, and continued down the Low Road.

Elmo obviously knows this area pretty well. As the sun was descending, he directed us to a campsite on a hilltop overlooking the road – and what I assume is the village of Nulb in the distance beyond a copse of trees.

A fire pit full of ashes indicates this is a popular spot for campers. I can see why, since it gives a good vantage of the surrounding grasslands…and the trees here will shelter us nicely from the wind.

On the opposite side from Nulb, we can see a large pile of rocks – almost a monument. Elmo says that’s the battlefield – Emridy Meadows – where the forces of Elemental Evil were defeated.

Hard to believe it was only nine years ago. Elmo doesn’t think his brother Ottis took part in the battle.

Alpheus would have been old enough, but I don’t think he made it over here to fight. He would have liked to, though…this battle turned the tide against the hordes of Evil, and allowed the lands of Good to enjoy what peace and quiet they now have.

The war isn’t over yet, obviously.

We’ll investigate in the morning…maybe we’ll finally find something out of place – something that will give us a direction to whatever the Cleric of Velnius felt was amiss…to whatever Brother Geru of the Druid Grove says is “disrupting the balance.”

As I was examining our campsite for any signs of bugbears, I found a hollowed-out stump. I showed it to Raven (since he had been talking about finding a place to hide his stuff before we went into Nulb) and he put the horsey dagger there that he bought in Veluna.

(He says he wants to give it to the Tzigane boy if we every meet them again.)

Ezekiel is taking first watch, kneeling a little ways from the fire, praying.

He doesn’t show it, but I know he gets tired of never getting an answer. I’m sure sometimes it feels like talking to himself…

****

Right after breakfast, we investigated the huge rock pile by the site of the battle.

It’s got to be fifteen or twenty feet tall, and made of boulders – some as big as my head.

Even after all this time, the ground underneath it looks dead and shriveled, as though by fire. Elmo tells us this is where they burned the bodies of the Evil Creatures after the battle.

We circled the pile a few times, but nothing seemed disturbed. Nothing that would indicate it was anything but the memorial of an old battle.

Nothing that would point to something Evil and Sinister crawling out of it, or disturbing the rest of the abominations burned to ash underneath.

No leads. Nothing.

So…we head for Nulb.


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Dear Diary…math and talking (what we’re bad at)

Alert: May contain spoilers for the module “The Village of Hommlet”

Ezekiel and Mikael got some branches to make a stretcher for the chest of coins – since otherwise none of us are carrying it.

Meanwhile, Elmo sharpened some sticks and made a barricade across the opening of the bugbears’ cave. Obviously this isn’t his first rodeo.

Ezekiel asked Elmo over supper about the nice dagger he used to kill the bugbear chief. Elmo says it was a present from his brother Ottis.

Ottis is a man-at-arms, and was hired by a “gentleman” a while back – somewhere not in town.

It’s good to have an older brother you can look up to.

****

Lydia has a spell that makes people stronger – for three hours, at least. She cast it on Mikael so he could help Elmo carry the stretcher with the chest…

When he got tired, Raven took a turn – but Elmo still felt fine.

We made pretty good time, and reached Hommlet shortly before noon.

As we were walking along, Mikael cast some kind of spell, and then he and Ezekiel had a conversation at the rear of the group.

I thought they were getting up to something…then Ezekiel called me over and told me that Elmo’s axe, chainmail, dagger, and shield were all magical. He said that Mikael even thought the axe was a different one than the one we’d bought him.

So maybe that’s what the two of them have been muttering about all this time.

Ezekiel went up to Elmo and asked him how his armor and weapons became magical.

Elmo gave a “well, I’ll be” face, and said he didn’t know.

So Ezekiel took Mikael (and Nori of course) with him to go talk to Elmo’s parents about this mysterious magic armor (since the axe and chainmail we bought for him probably weren’t magical…) while the rest of us went to the money-changer’s to convert our wealth.

Ah…math. That thing we hate.

Between me, Raven, Lydia, and Elmo, I think we got a pretty square deal. The money-changer (Nyra Meddles is his name) helped us count up exactly what we got off the bugbears…and it came to more than I was anticipating.

So maybe Raven’s complaints about his back are warranted, after lugging that chest all this way.

We converted the copper coins – and as much of the silver as Mr. Meddles had on hand – because gold coins are more compact for carrying. There was still quite a pile of electrum pieces…not to mention the gold coins we found in the chest (Mr. Meddles pointed out that some of those coins were minted in Greyhawk…so I guess our bugbears had robbed some long-distance travelers).

After his fee (which was higher than I expected, but it’s not like we’re going to take our business elsewhere – and I suppose he earned it for doing all the counting and calculations) we ended with:

291 gold

1157 electrum

and 18 copper left over

Elmo had a handy sack for carrying away our booty – which was good, because the latch on the chest was pretty useless, and the lid had trouble staying closed after being wrenched open and carried all this way and what-not.

On the way, we had talked about ways to hide our treasure in Hommlet while we return to Nulb (including having Mikael put a Fire Trap on a chest – a new chest, presumably – and having Raven fake a trap on the chest to scare away any potential thieves) but now that it’s been reduced in size and weight, I don’t think that will be a problem.

The money doesn’t quite divide equally between six people (Nori doesn’t count for a share), but I used my leadership skills and decided we could use the extra to buy everybody a “team victory” dinner at the Welcome Wench.

Ezekiel and Mikael (and Nori) joined us shortly after we reached the inn, so we sat down to something worthy of a victory dinner (even though we only defeated a hideout of bugbears).

Elmo is already spending some of his share on ale.

I don’t know about that guy.

Ezekiel and Mikael haven’t told us what they learned from his parents…

But what are you going to do? We would have come out a lot worse without Elmo’s muscle.

Father used to say, “You can’t go through your whole life mistrusting everyone. Sometime, somewhere, you’ve got to trust someone…just choose carefully.”

Yeah, well, I guarantee Bartholomew and Clarance never dared stick a miniature scilithid in Father’s bed. Or teach him to swim by dropping him off the bridge into the river. Or drop a snake down his shirt when some girls are walking by.

If it weren’t for Alpheus, I might have grown up into a conspiratorial paranoiac with trust issues. Just imagine that.


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Dear Diary…things get bug(bear)gy

Alert: May contain spoilers for the module “The Village of Hommlet”

And people wonder why my nerves are like this.

I hadn’t been on watch for very long when a weapon came out of nowhere and just missed my head. I “roused” my party (with a yelp) and we jumped up to fight six bugbears – huge, lumbering, and almost silent! (So you see, it wasn’t my fault…they kept to the shadows and made about as much noise as Kelsier or Raven does.)

Lydia cast a spell on herself (I think she said it was Protection from Evil) while Mikael charged a bugbear and tackled it to the ground (I assume he meant to do that).

Elmo yelled, “Die, Bugbear!” and chopped one in two with his axe.

We did pretty well for ourselves (it was good being able to put some of my Ranger training into action) with Ezekiel soaking up a lot of the punishment (as usual).

Elmo said, “Go protect witch, priest-man!”

I snuck a glance at Lydia, but she looked all right – in fact, she was waving fire around on the end of her finger.

Nori dropped a few with one bite (poison is why all spiders should be on our side) and Raven kicked the head off another.

When it was all over, Elmo hurried to look over Ezekiel’s wounds, while I tied a bandage or two on Mikael. With the immediate blood-loss dealt with, Mikael took his time to cast Cure Light Wounds on the two of them (which is why Cleric spells are very handy).

Elmo and I search the enemies, but didn’t find anything worthwhile. Bugbears aren’t much for manufacture, so their armor is all bits and pieces they’ve stolen from other people.

Elmo was quite upset, and insisted bugbears are big bandits, and always have loot on them. He asked Lydia if she was an elf girl – but she’s not, so she can’t help us see in the dark. (I suppose he hasn’t seen her without her face-wrap.)

Ezekiel supposed that someone is ordering the bugbears around, then took Mikael aside for a conference.

I think they’re up to something.

Mikael’s healing spells really helped, and everyone is settling down for the rest of the night. Well, except for Ezekiel, who’s kneeling a little distance away to pray.

I wonder if his Deity will take an interest in this little adventure…He seems to be in favor of defeating Evil, but is it a big enough matter for His notice?

We’ll have to see.

****

I turned over my watch to Elmo, and woke to the smells of breakfast.

Once we were packed up, I took Raven and we went ahead of the others to follow the trail of the bugbears back to their “fortress” (Elmo is convinced their treasure will be there. He also tried to be part of the advance force, not understanding the idea of “quiet” and “sneaky” (I’m wearing magic boots, after all, and Raven is Raven).)

The bugbears hadn’t make any effort to cover their tracks, and they certainly have big feet. It didn’t take long at all to find their base – a cave in the side of the hill.

The others hung back while Raven and I crept up to the cave mouth. It was pretty dark in there, but we noticed the three bugbears about the same time they noticed us.

I gave a sharp whistle for our friends outside (not thinking that any other bugbears in the cave would hear sounds of battle as readily as our party would).

I dropped my sword on my first swing – and got a nick for it. But I’m not the only one, because Raven apparently didn’t calculate the weight of a bugbear properly and knocked himself off balance on his first attack.

Elmo rushed into the cave, shouting, and moments later the bugbears started to glow with the magical outline of Mikael’s Faery Fire.

Nori dropped onto an enemy’s head and took him down with one bite. Ezekiel charged and swung his mace so hard a piece of the bugbear’s patchwork armor flew clear off.

As we were finishing off the others, a new bugbear ran up and swung at Nori – but Elmo took it down with one cleave.

Apparently battle axes are very nice. That, or he’s really strong.

The cave forked in two. Ezekiel and I shone our magic shields of light down the passages (Elmo’s suggestion. He’s kinda pushy when it comes to this adventuring thing).

Bones littered the floor – along with other trash I couldn’t even identify (and probably wouldn’t want to).

The left fork was a dead end, so we headed down the right fork – Elmo and me in front, spell-casters in the middle.

When we came to a larger opening, we paused. (Elmo held up his hand and told us to wait – but I’m kind of holding a shield as bright as the sun. It’s not like we’re going to sneak up to them in a cave.)

A club came whistling through the darkness and clocked Ezekiel…and then battle was joined.

I’m sure glad we healed up after last night’s fight. I’m also glad bugbears don’t do well against poison…Go Nori!

Mikael cast Faery Fire, and I caught sight of a truly massive bugbear lumbering toward us.

Ezekiel bashed a bugbear so hard my teeth rattled. Elmo clove with his axe left and right. Raven twirled around making monk-y sounds.

Mikael smacked a bugbear so hard it staggered back out of range (he always calls it “poke of the wind”, but I guess that time he meant it!).

Elmo drew a dagger and threw it, nailing the last bugbear. (I guess he hadn’t heard that that’s Raven’s trick.)

While I was examining the walls, to make sure we’d got all the enemies, Elmo searched the bugbear chief and found a little pouch with three stones I can only assume are gemstones.

He still wasn’t satisfied though…until we searched the rest of the cave and found a small chest tucked in a corner.

We were trying to figure out whether it was trapped, and how to open in, when Elmo stepped forward and popped the lid open with his axe.

(Remind me to stand back if he opens any doors.)

The chest held thousands of coins – mostly silver or copper, but a few higher quality, too.

Elmo insists that bugbears usually carry their treasure around with them…so for them to stockpile it around in chests is unusual.

Ezekiel thinks they were getting ready to ship it to someone…meaning there’s someone the bugbears are afraid of.

We all agreed we probably shouldn’t take this chest into Nulb, so after resting tonight we’ll head back to town (Hommlet) to deposit it.

Thank goodness we’re camping at the mouth of the cave. The smell reminds me of goblins, and I hate goblins.

Bugbears are smarter than goblins, of course. Just…something here isn’t right.

(By the way, it’s so nice not being trashed by a single wounded goblin. Growing up sure does help.)


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Dear Diary…we gear up

Alert: May contain spoilers for the module “The Village of Hommlet”

No one seems to have been kidnapped during the night, so that’s good.

This morning coming out of the dormitory, we met yet another fighter (whose name I forget) who says he’s waiting for a caravan heading south to the Wild Coast, so he can accompany it.

This place seems to be a decent trade route, as well as a hopping place for monster-killing.

After some discussion, we decided that Raven and Lydia would head to the general store and buy some rations, while the rest of us go talk to the village elder about “evil goings-on.” (I’m still not sure about our methodology, but at least it’s better than randomly provoking people to attack us…)

As we were leaving, we ran into Elmo again – arriving for his first ale of the day.

The elder lives in a well-to-do house with a defensible stone wall. The gate was open, so we went up to the door and knocked.

Nori wanted to “play” with the horses in the yard, I think, but Mikael told her to stay by us.

The elder is an older man, and seems pleasant enough. He greeted Mikael specially (being “old faith” himself), and offered us something to drink.

Ezekiel explained why we’d been sent, and asked for advice.

The elder explained that he knew Cannoness Eday had “left,” and that Canon Turjon had come to replace her…but he hadn’t heard any rumor of foul play.

He advised us not to stay the night in Nulb, and warned us that the High Road ate adventurers…few who go that way have come back. The Low Road to Nulb is longer, winding through the hills, but it’s safer for those going through Nulb to Sabanwich.

Mikael talked about what Druid Ashstaff said – about things being “out of balance” (which is a very Druid thing to say, of course).

The elder advised us to follow the druid’s advice and listen to his warnings…he also told us we’d do well to gather some more party members before setting out.

Ezekiel asked for a recommendation – that, or he just happened to mention that we’d been approached by several potential adventurers, including Elmo – and the elder said that, oh, yes, Elmo was a steady fellow – he was too stupid to be devious.

When we took our leave, Ezekiel decided we should bring Elmo on before heading out on the Low Road, so he and Mikael went to find him (probably watering himself in the Welcome Wench) while I wait in the road for Raven and Lydia (since we agreed we’d all meet up in front of the elder’s house).

Hope Ezekiel’s right about this. It’s so hard to judge someone’s character just at a glance…especially if you aren’t a Paladin.

**

Raven and Lydia met me with a big bag of rations. They figure it’s about three days’ journey to Nulb, so they got a week’s worth of food for each of us. (They had to barter for it, and Raven tells me Lydia was pretty sharp. Also, they didn’t have tabasco sauce. Raven will just have to rough it.)

I told them what Ezekiel was up to while we divvied up the supplies. We should have enough extra for Elmo, and if worst comes to worst I know how to skin rabbits.

After hanging around for a bit, the other three (four counting Nori) came down the road – including Elmo carrying a big battle-axe.

Ezekiel told us Elmo wanted gold for ale, a chainmail shirt, this axe, and a fair share of treasure for adventuring with us. Unfortunately, the shopkeeper charged more than Ezekiel had for a chain shirt, there’s no other place in town to get one, and Elmo wasn’t budging on that requirement.

While digging in the bag of holding to see what treasure we had left over, I discovered the dwarf-sized magic chainmail we got from Durglower. I forgot I was still hauling that around!

Ezekiel will go with Lydia and Elmo to try trading it for Elmo-sized chainmail while the rest of us go have lunch at the inn. Might as well, since the day is getting on, and it looks like we won’t get the early start we thought we would.

**

Apparently Elmo’s a good barterer, too, because we not only got a bigger chainmail shirt, but also 70 gold pieces for Durglower’s armor!

Elmo had to run home and show his mom. (I did ask him, didn’t he have a chainmail shirt before? but he said, “It broke.”) She told him to “be careful,” and then we were finally on the road.

We didn’t get as far as we could have, but we made pretty good time especially with Lydia having to carry all her books, and having shorter legs than most of us (except maybe me).

So far so good. Ezekiel says he’ll take first watch. I’ll take second. Elmo volunteered for third, but Ezekiel asked Mikael to take it.

Ezekiel and Mikael are talking on the other side of the fire. I have a bad feeling about something.

Maybe there really is an “imbalance” in the air.

I’ll sleep up against this tree.


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Dear Diary…we try a new approach

Alert: May contain spoilers for “The Village of Hommlet”

Lydia has been wearing Bakluni face-wraps while traveling. It draws less attention than her face, so I have to applaud her for that.

The last leg of the trip has been pretty quiet. We did meet a caravan of cargo wagons on the road…they told us that “oh, yes, Hommlet is Old Faith” and exchanged pleasantries. They’re passing through all the way to Dyvers.

Lots of gnomes in these hills. They wear different fashions than those in the Starkmounds, but so far they’ve been very hospitable.

****

Met a strange old man on the road today. He sat on the crest of a hill, and looked like a weathered herdsman except we didn’t see any flock.

Ezekiel (naturally) greeted him, and asked if we were on the road to Hommlet.

The man answered that one direction was Hommlet, but the other way was Verbobank. (So…like my brother Snarkin.)

He turned down Ezekiel’s offer that we accompany him, but asked us to “be kind” to any of his flock that we found in Hommlet.

I don’t trust it.

We’re staying outside a gnomish inn tonight, and according to the map we should reach Hommlet early tomorrow. We talked a little bit about what our approach should be, but I think we’re just going to see how things come. After all, our investigative technique in Orlane wasn’t that impressive.

Ezekiel agrees we should try to see if we can resolve this problem without killing any townsfolk.

****

When we first arrived in Hommlet, we passed a little farmhouse where a woman and some dogs came out to greet us.

Raven talked to the dogs for a moment, and told us they were a little worried about Nori.

The woman suggested we go to “The Welcome Wench” for hospitality, and shortly afterward a man who seemed to be her son came out and joined us on the road.

His name is Elmo, and he says he’s a man at arms in the militia (and that his dad is the constable). Hard to tell if he’s not all there, or if he’s just drained his brains into a beer-mug, if you know what I mean.

(Wonder if Reginald will end up like that one day? I don’t see Father giving him an empty title and letting him drink his life away, though…especially not on Father’s dime. Been forever since I’ve had a letter from them…I wonder what they’re all up to by now?)

Anyway, Elmo offered his services if we were to head into the hills looking for monsters with treasure…we told him we’d keep it in mind.

When we reached the inn, we decided that Ezekiel, Mikael, and Lydia would go check out the chapel at the north end of town, while Raven and I investigated the “Welcome Wench” (and its food). (Mikael told Nori to hang out on the roof. She’s pretty used to that…wonder if she catches birds in her spare time or something.)

The common room seemed pretty packed, considering the hour. One big, scar-faced man in the corner wore traveling clothes…I bet anything he’s an adventurer.

Raven promptly ordered a lavish breakfast (I got away with a simple breakfast) and an ale. Elmo, over at another table, was already deep in his ale. It’s a little early in the morning for me to be drinking.

At a table against the wall, a huge man sat with someone who looked Bakluni…they seemed to be watching us, but I couldn’t really hear what they were saying.

Raven told me to settle down and eat my breakfast, and that the food was truly amazing.

Well, so it was pretty good…as was the serving girl. (Hope Raven doesn’t show off his muscles again, or he’ll have another admirer…)

There’s a merchant with two bodyguards having breakfast. The propriater (Mr. Gundercoot) says lots of adventurers go looking for monsters with treasure in the Chron Hills — which explains all the strangers in town. It must be a pretty busy trade route, too.

He says the Wild Coast (beyond town and to the south) is particularly dangerous.

Well, all kinds of places to investigate for “trouble.”

**

Ezekiel, Mikael, and Lydia joined us for breakfast. Raven couldn’t stop praising the food…which, coming from an expert like him, is quite an endorsement.

Over his breakfast, Ezekiel told us the chapel is a church of St. Cuthbert and the under-priest is named Calmet. Turjon, the over-priest, wasn’t there at the time, but Calmet said the “high road” to Nulb has been especially dangerous lately. (Nulb being the village that sprang up around the Temple of Elemental Evil. Apparently even though the temple is nixed, the village is still there.)

This place seems to swarm with adventurers, as he said “the fighter at the tower” east of town got rich from killing a green dragon, and so he and his magic user friend live there with a bunch of mercenaries.

Not sure I’m up to a dragon. Still, these types may have come for the treasure, but they’re still killing monsters. What could have concerned the Cleric of Velnius that he sent us all this way? Did he even have something specific in mind?

We were just about finished eating when the Bakluni-looking little man and his enormous companion came over to our table. He introduced himself as Turuko (and Kobort) and they offered their assistance should we be planning to go adventuring in the surrounding hills. (Turuko said he was skilled at assessing things for greater value.)

Ezekiel said we would keep it in mind, but that our party was complete at that time — and I suggested they go join up with Elmo, since he had made the same offer to us.

I notice they didn’t go over to Elmo’s table, but went back to their own.

Raven told me to chill out, and finish my breakfast. What is he getting at?!

After some discussion, we reserved beds in the dormitory for the guys, and a private room for Lydia (and our bags). She went up with her books to study a little while Ezekiel and Raven go back to the Church of St. Cuthbert for some more information and Mikael and I check out the Druid Grove nearby (one of the people we talked to suggested we might find out more there).

Incidentally, St. Cuthbert isn’t exactly “Old Faith”…

**

The Grove was peaceful, but orderly. I always feel a little solemn around places like that. You know the stones lining the path and the structure of the shrine were put there on purpose…but sometimes you feel like even the blades of grass and the leaves of the trees are exactly where they’re supposed to be.

I don’t think Nori felt that way. She started frolicking and chasing a squirrel.

Mikael went toward the center until the master of the grove (armed and armored) came out of the shrine to meet him.

Mikael made a donation to the Grove, and asked the druid-master about trouble in the area.

The druid of the grove (Geru Ashstaff) said the “balance is upset”…that Evil is around… He couldn’t tell us more specifically, but said that something was definitely off.

Balance is more of a Druid thing than a Ranger thing, but I’m all about stopping Evil. Besides, you don’t succeed by messing up the place you live.

**

Back at the inn, in our private room, Ezekiel told us what they had learned at the chapel. Apparently the old Cannoness, who founded the chapel, was named Eday and disappeared one day. Under-priest Calmet says that one day, she just wasn’t there…and then Cannon Turjon came to replace her.

Calmet also suggested we speak to the village elder, who if I’m not mistaken was here when all the old trouble was happening.

Ezekiel says we’ll rest here tonight, and head off in the morning, looking for “trouble.”

In going over the room (because you can never be too careful) I spotted a panel in the ceiling that was loose.

Mikael pushed it over for me, and Ezekiel held his perpetually shining shield up there, but it was hard to see anything from a distance.

Raven, of course, can lift me one-handed – so he poked my head up through there, and I felt around for anything suspicious. Didn’t find anything, and I don’t think the space is big enough for anyone to fit through…so they could spy on us through there, but not kidnap our Magic User through there.

I hope.

Raven told me to relax and enjoy life.

Just what is his angle? What is he getting at?


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Dear Diary…friends at the library

Been on the road for several months now.

Nori sleeps on the roof when we find an inn, or outside the walls when we come to a town. People seem to be nervous of her…which is understandable, given her appearance.

Raven does push-ups every chance he has. Ezekiel has been scribbling notes on his manuscript again – his magnum opus about the God of Gods.

Ran into a party of nine goblins. I was very excited to try out the tricks my Ranger Master taught me (about goblins’ weak points, of course) but I guess I was a little too eager because it was hard to land a hit on them.

Back in the day, a party like that would have wiped us out. Now, we triumphed with just a few scratches.

Being older and wiser and stronger sure pays off.

****

The tiny village today offered the blacksmith’s stable as an inn/tavern, so we hung out in the straw with the locals and listened to their stories.

An old man started playing a tune, and we slowly recognized it as that song the gypsy sang. Raven whistled along, while Mikael and I tried to remember the words…y’know, the song the gypsy made about our adventure in Orlane.

So glad to have that behind us. The mud-pit and Explictika, I mean. The people in Orlane were kinda nice (when they weren’t mind-controlled).

A little boy said his favorite part was when the lightening bolt killed the snake. He said he wished he could have seen that. Ezekiel said he wished so, too.

It was indeed something to see, though I was a little distracted. Always treat your magic users well…

****

Funny thing happened in the inn tonight.

As we entered the common room, a Ranger was telling a story about how he “told that evil snake that he was not impressed by her, and he was going to end her reign then and there” – and then he took his great big sword and chopped her head off.

(The barmaid tried to look impressed, but I think she’d heard this story before.)

I turned to Ezekiel to say what a coincidence that this guy had fought an evil snake lady, too!

Raven walked up to the Ranger and asked him about his story. The Ranger (I heard his name was Avalon) said that, yes, he was a mighty Ranger to have defeated such an Evil snake lady, and that we had probably heard of him.

Raven asked to arm-wrestle with him, and Avalon said it would be an honor for Raven to arm-wrestle with such a mighty hero as himself.

The crowd cleared a table for them, and Raven and Avalon squared up across from each other.

(Ezekiel sat at a table off to the side and ordered dinner.)

Raven measured his forearm against Avalon’s, adjusted his grip on Avalon’s palm, and then slammed Avalon’s hand down against the table.

(I did warn him Raven had been doing push-ups.)

The barmaid seemed very impressed, and after Avalon went home she went to talk to Raven. Apparently they’ve all heard the gypsy song, and Avalon says he’s the one in the song.

I asked Ezekiel what the odds were that there were two evil snake ladies around (in between making snide remarks about Raven’s new girlfriend).

Ezekiel didn’t seem worried about it, and we didn’t really talk about it the rest of the night.

As we were bedding down, someone pointed out that it would be too bad if these people think they have a legendary warrior in Avalon, and then something actually dangerous shows up. Ezekiel didn’t seem to think it was worth throwing a fuss over (he’s hunched over with a candle, working on his theological treatise), so we’ll probably just move on in the morning.

Avalon reminds me of a brother of mine. Personally, fame is too much trouble for me to want to steal it…and maybe getting owned by Raven will make Avalon reconsider his life choices.

****

25th of Harvester, arrived at Veluna City.

Found very cheap quarters at the Scholar’s Rest – which is right across from the big library, conveniently enough.

We engaged rooms (be careful that you get ones with beds, since not all of them have them) and stashed our stuff before heading for the library.

I’m hanging on to my magic sword, though…I’m paranoid.

**

Ezekiel asked the attendant about the Book of All Gods, while the rest of us stood there not really knowing what to do.

Tomlin would’ve loved to look around this place. Come to think of it, maybe he’s gone on for advanced studies by now. Alpheus and Mother, of course, used to go to the great library back home.

The attendant brought back the book, but neither of them could read it – apparently it was in “Illusionist,” so they’d need the help of “Prettypebbles.”

(Sounds like a gnome name if ever I heard one…)

He found him illusioned to look like a tall man (at least that’s what Mikael told me was going on), talking to a…young lady who might have made Nori look cuddly. I’ll say no more.

When Prettypebbles was in his gnome appearance, I thought I recognized his clothes as being the Starkmounds fashion – and sure enough, he introduced himself as “Neeblebluer Prettypebbles.”

So there’s another mystery solved! (He said Orlane was boring. Maybe that’s why he left. At least he wasn’t eaten by Explictika.)

Ezekiel asked about any references to the “god of gods,” and Prettypebbles flipped through until he found the page he wanted (see, when he recites/casts the words on the page, little images appear above the pages. It’s super cool).

He had trouble with that page, though, because of some “interference” from the “former rector.” They explained that the rector had spent a little too much time with the scrying orb in the basement, and now he was…troublesome.

Prettypebbles mentioned off-hand going down to “turn” him, and Ezekiel perked up at once. With his usual effervescence, he offered to go “deal” with the rector so they could continue.

Well, when they let us into the basement, we discovered a large black sphere on a black iron stand…surrounded by six figures I could only assume were ghouls.

Little hope of examining them to be sure, of course, because Ezekiel promptly dusted them with his sheep toy magic symbol. The orb seemed to brighten up after that – not enough to illuminate the space, but at least it looked happier.

After poking our noses behind a few more doors to make sure there were no surprises hiding, we returned upstairs.

Then Mr. Prettypebbles was able to read the page properly, and an image appeared of all the gods (every single one, so there were quite a lot) kneeling on a plain, and in the middle was a bright spot – so shiny we couldn’t see anything in it.

“Well, that was worth waking up for,” said Prettypebbles.

While we had his attention, we asked him about the attack our own village…about Ertuli, which seems so far away and so long ago, now.

Well, Prettypebbles got an atlas and started waving his hands and chanting his words, and a figure started to appear over the map – but then a voice said, “No!” and the image vanished.

He said we had to try with the scrying orb (so it’s just as well we cleared out the ghouls earlier) – and this time, when he tried his spell, he seemed to see much more.

It still didn’t make sense to me, but he tells us the “Black One” – the “Mage of the Valley” – was putting pressure on the bugbears (we saw this big bugbear chief in the orb) and that this chief made the goblins do what they wouldn’t normally do (attack a village during the day).

That at least gives us some answers, although it doesn’t help us much. I guess defeating the bugbear chief would relieve the pressure on the goblins…and as hard as that sounds, it sounds more doable than dealing with this Black Mage or whatever he is. Prettypebbles says he’s protected himself from scrying, and anyone who goes into his valley doesn’t come out.

We thanked Mr. Prettypebbles, and he said he would let us know if he thought of a quest for us to thank him with.

He did ask “Beanpole” to reach a book for “Lydia” – the girl we’d seen earlier. Mikael got it down for her – Basic Thaumaturgy.

Ezekiel said that was a very interesting book to be reading, and somehow or other she realized who we were and suddenly asked, “You’re not them, are you? From the song?”

She knew all our names, and what we had done in the lair of Explictika, and was very impressed.

“I’ve only been in two dungeons,” she said. “And they were really more like cellars.”

I guess you could call the cellars of the Temple and the Golden Grain “dungeons,” but they were nothing compared to the Mud Pit of Instant Death (which we barely survived and one of us not even that).

Ezekiel explained that we’d been engaged to investigate possible disturbances in the town of Homlett (everyone around here knows that’s where the Cult of Elemental Evil showed up however-long ago), and Lydia jumped on it and asked to come.

She said learning through application is so much more effective than just theory (she’s sure right there) and said she wanted to adventure alongside seasoned heroes like us.

Well…with an offer like that, how could we turn her down? Especially when she mentioned she can “only” cast up to level 2 spells (as good as Mikael is, it would be nice to have more than one spell-caster).

We got used to Nori’s looks…we’ll get used to Lydia’s, too.

So we start out the day after tomorrow. The others have some shopping they want to do – Mikael especially wants to get a collar for Nori, so maybe people won’t be so worried about her.

If luck is with us, we should reach Homlett in another month. Just in time for winter to set in. And then, who knows what will be waiting for us…


This is a continuation of the adventure begun in “How Did It All Start?” To get to know the characters better, click here.

To read where we left off last time, click here.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for book updates!

Dear Diary…nothing is ever simple

Alert: May contain spoilers for the AD&D Module: “Born-Again Ogres of the Blinding Light”

Lunch break.  So far things have gone well. Haraldus is going on about how we must forgive our enemies – because the dwarves really don’t know any better (just like the hobgoblins didn’t use to know any better) and so we should pity them not hate them. Ezekiel is really getting into it.

Impressive that he convinced hobgoblins to change their nature like this. Pity it doesn’t work on everybody…

****

Close to supper-time, someone appeared on the road in front of us, approaching. Imagine our surprise when Durglower Rockvein (fully healed, and with three friends) stepped forward with a big sack.

While I was busy counting them and planning order of attack, Ezekiel greeted them.

“We’re awful sorry about, well, last night,” said the dwarf (in his little dwarvish accent). “So we hoped we could share a meal with ye before you leave our territory tomorro’.”

Well…Ezekiel asked us what we thought. I reminded him that I am always paranoid, but Ezekiel was inclined to give them a chance (and so was Haraldus since, y’know, he was just telling us about forgiving our enemies).

So the dwarves pulled roots and herbs out of their sack, the hobgoblins got a fire and stew going, and dinner was served.

Raven said he wasn’t feeling well, so he didn’t have any stew. Ezekiel, Mikael, Haraldus, and the hobgoblins seemed to enjoy the stew, and the dwarves ate their fill (although they didn’t seem to enjoy it).

I decided some of us needed to be paranoid, so I had bread and cheese leftover from lunch.

After the meal, the dwarves packed up and left. Night was close enough that we settled down to camp.

Haraldus soon rolled into his cloak and fell asleep. So did Ezekiel.

In fact he isn’t moving when I prod him with my foot.

Mikael seems to be fine…so I guess no matter what’s happening, I’ll take my watch and get ready for trouble.

After all, trouble happens to us every week.

****

Sure enough, I hadn’t even roused my replacement for the watch when the dwarves were back.

In fact, Durglower must have found some more somewhere, because he had six friends again – same as last night.

Since Ezekiel was still sacked out (and since Ezie had given me that special-looking short sword) I uncovered my shield with Perpetual Light engaged the dwarf leader and one of his men.

Durglower was a little over-eager, because one of his first thrusts drove his sword right through my shield – where it got stuck.

The dwarves in my peripheral vision lit up with Mikael’s faery fire. I heard the screams and gurgles as Nori bit into her master’s enemies…the high, wailing thing Raven does when he does his monk attacks…the harsh hobgoblin voices singing “O Blinding Light” (not as tunefully as last night)…the clang of dwarves attacking the acolytes…the soft snoring of Ezekiel at our feet.

Durglower made a lunge for his sword, and stomped on Ezekiel’s head. Even Ezie was wakened by that, and he scrambled to his feet.

I’m glad I paid so much attention to my Ranger Master. The two dwarves hammering on me did get in a blow or two, but for the most part they didn’t do much damage.

Ezekiel cried, “Friend Hobgoblins, bandage the monk!”

So apparently Raven’s luck wasn’t so strong.

“Only see spider, not monkey,” the hobgoblins answered, and lost the tune for “O Blinding Light.”

“Help the man on the ground,” yelled Ezekiel — then dashed off muttering to himself. Apparently one of them tried to rouse Haraldus.

Haraldus was really out, to sleep through all the dim we were making.

Nori pounced onto Durglower’s head, trying to get a bite in. He’s quite the tough one, that’s for sure, since I’d been whacking at him the entire time, and he still wasn’t down.

Durglower finally managed to yank his sword out of my shield, but just then Mikael ran up, and shot some kind of flame from his hand (it’s so fun watching him do new things) – and knocked D backward a pace.

As I finished off the dwarf chief, I realized a hobgoblin was beating on Nori. They weren’t singing anymore…they were shouting, “Blood and bludgeon, brothers!”

Mikael (still swinging around that hand-held flame of his) ran toward the couple remaining dwarves, who were still single-mindedly attacking the hobgoblins.

Raven did some kind of flippy kick (but missed) and as I was coming forward, too, (slowed down because a hobgoblin hit me) Mikael took down one of the dwarves.

There was still one up and kicking, though – and he stabbed the last hobgoblin before we could get to him (the hobgoblin that was trying to attack me for some reason).

Then he turned and ran. Ezekiel yelled to us to kill the dwarf, and bent over a fallen hobgoblin acolyte.

I dropped my weapons and whipped out my bow. My first arrow winged him so badly that he fell to the ground.

Well, I must have gotten over-excited, because my next shot totally fumbled – but it let Raven catch up with the dwarf, and then he delayed him enough for me to get the final shot off.

When we turned back to the camp, Haraldus was awake and sitting up, and cradling an acolyte in his arms. He was mumbling something that sounded like a Cure Light Wounds spell, but his voice kept breaking.

“They couldn’t let us stay in the light,” grunted the hobgoblin. “Kill or be killed. They wouldn’t let us stay in the light…”

Ezekiel went around closing their eyes, imploring Ao for mercy on their souls.

Nori was also in a bad way, quietly twitching a couple of her legs as Mikael stroked her.

When Ezekiel knew all the hobgoblins were dead, he pulled out a scroll and began to read over Nori. In a few minutes, she twitched again, rolled her feet underneath her, and climbed a nearby tree.

Thank goodness. Say what you will about her looks, she has the highest kill count of our entire party. We would’ve been dead without her.

Haraldus sat by the fire, mourning his acolytes. Ezekiel asked him how far this Chapel of Hope was…but it was at least eight days away, and we’d never get their bodies there in time for a resurrection.

So the best we can do is bury them here, and trust the Good gods to be gracious on some poor, lost hobgoblins.

I wonder how that even works…

****

I searched the dwarves before we buried them.

  • 60 gold pieces (in the bag of holding to be shared)
  • fine leather boots (Mikael determined they’re magical, so we let Raven try them out; even though they came off a dwarf, they seem to fit whoever wears them)
  • blood ruby broach
  • chainmail (also magical, but still dwarf-sized)
  • silver-buckled belt
  • platinum necklace with rose crystal setting in a horn shape (not magical)
  • potion (Ezekiel thinks it might be for animal control? He’s carrying it – after all, he spent his Potion of Heal on Raven during the fight, so he has a slot available on his belt)

On top of all that, Haraldus still paid us the fifty gold apiece that he promised – even though we kind of failed to get his charges safely to their destination.

Ezekiel didn’t want to accept it, since he said we had the chance to kill Durglower Rockvein on that first night, but we didn’t…and left him able to cause more trouble.

Haraldus said that he supported Ezekiel’s decision at the time, so it wasn’t really his/our fault…and after all, he promised us the money, so wouldn’t feel right not paying us.

We offered to escort him back home (rather ironic request, given the turn of events) but he said he didn’t think he’d be molested from now on…

I think I saw Ezekiel with tears in his eyes as he said good-bye to Haraldus. Regrets about his chosen deity? Heh…the way they were talking, sounds like Ao and Pholtus of the Blinding Light might be friends.

Well. We continue on richer, but are we wiser?

I wonder if a hobgoblin will ever learn to serve a Good deity.

Note to self: never trust anyone. Especially anyone offering food. Ever.


This is a continuation of the adventure begun in “How Did It All Start?” To get to know the characters better, click here.

To read where we left off last time, click here.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for book updates!